Experimental Interactions/Adaptive Management


Continuous experimentation or Adaptive management is a key component of both broader human interactions with environmental systems and the evolution of Martial Art’s styles and practices through the measured engagement of individual martial artists.   In working with environmental systems, human participants continuously gather data through testing and experimentation.  They then leverage that data to develop policies, standards, practices and procedures that anticipate and guide future behaviors in the context of historical data.  Policies continuously evolve based on the adaptive characteristics of this iterative pattern.

The martial arts practitioner similarly and continuously experiments with new styles and techniques through personal skill set development and the improvisational sparring interaction with other martial artists.  Both the personal development of skills and evolving methods of engagement transpire in the context of innate ability, rigorous training techniques and adaptive necessity (due to the effects of aging or superior skills of an opponent).

An environmental test, as previously stated, could be executed by observing and documenting the natural variability in an ecosystem’s stimulus response patterns.  A controlled burn of a forest is an example of this kind of direct experiment.  The response of environmental systems to these kinds of artificially induced stimuli can generate the data and information required to better understand and predict the future behaviors of some components of an ecosystem.

The ongoing quest for holistic martial arts excellence frequently leads the practitioner to continuously experiment with the improvement of existing techniques and the development of new techniques personalized in the context of improvisational sparring matches with an opponent (especially one previously unknown).   These kinds of engagements typically begin as a cautious application of well-understood and practiced techniques.   As an opponent responds to these techniques, data about the skills of the sparring partner (style of Martial Arts, specific techniques and fighting preferences) and the ensuing interaction model become increasingly clear.  Environmental scientists often exercise similar approaches to gaining a nascent understanding of newly identified ecosystem components before proceeding with more potentially impactful experiments.

Martial Arts experiments with personal or close-proximity eco-systems can emphasize internal or external approaches.  Internal experiments focus on self-development and personal technique extensions (new stances, forms or weapons applications, for example).  Related impacts or outcomes are more limited to personal ecosystem development.  Ultimately, however, these kinds of personal adaptations inevitably influence engagements with other practitioners as well.  An overtly external experiment focuses on applications of personal ecosystem components to specific engagement models with opponents.  For example, based on observed opponent skills, the development of kicking capabilities that require a fake kick to the opponent’s chest (drawing a block and leaving open other targets), followed by an actual last-second kick to the head, could prove very effective.

These kinds of Marital Arts experiments serve two purposes.  The first gains a martial arts practitioner experimentally verified advantage over an opponent.  The second is more enduring.    This kind of experimental interaction fosters the acquisition of knowledge that can help guide future engagements with other opponents.

Both environmental and martial arts experimentation introduces unique time scale challenges.  While the results of short-term interactions may be readily apparent, the implications of long-term effects of continuous or aggregated applications can be very difficult to predict.  Adaptive cycle rates can vary dramatically from those associated with personal ecosystems of martial artists to the aggregated impact of many martial artists in the broader ecosystems that house them.

While individual practitioners will cycle through personal adaptive cycles at their own rates, they are also components of broader systems exhibiting responses to levels of aggregated activity that may reside largely outside of any individual’s line-of-sight.   While the individual adaptive cycles share a similar structure, the cumulative impact to broader ecosystem (the evolution of a specific style or practice) may only be reflected across a much broader time scale.   The manner in which individual adaptive cycles are executed, overlap, etc.., and will influence the manner in which the cycles combine to influence more “global ecosystems.”

Individual Martial Artists normally train or practice within an established system or style of Martial arts.  However, an early focus on the mastery of established techniques and practices is eventually balanced by additional experimentation with that style and its techniques and combinations uniquely well suited to individual practitioners.   The emerging experimentation demonstrates parallels with the phases of the adaptive cycle.  The comparative successes and failures of extended or new techniques result in continual adaptation.  Early successful adaptations are often predicated on short-term benefits, with little regard to the longer-term impact on the martial arts practitioner or style as a whole.  For example, martial artists in the earlier phases of development may implement selective nerve deadening procedures.  Related short-term combat or sparring benefits of these practices often lead to problematic consequences later in life.  Martial Arts styles tend to evolve in response to successful individual adaptations that are uniformly successful.

An example of an experiment in training that has a more direct effect on the larger Martial Arts system or style would be training with modern improvised weapons.  The evolution of To-Shin Do includes the use of everyday items for self-defense.  Individual choices during confrontations using this style will subsequently influence its adaptation over a broader period of time.  In this case, short-term effects are demonstrated by improved practitioner safety. Adaptive stylistic responses are exhibited in the evolution of the style based on new individual practices.  The long-term evolution of the style, by definition, resides outside of the view of any single practitioner.

While the near-term impact of modifications to an individual component of a broader ecosystem (a small section of a forest converted to farmland) would be readily observable in the near-term, the long-term impact to the forest at large may not be observable for years.   For example, the successful conversion of a small patch of forest to farmland could inspire more farmers to similar behavior resulting in deforestation of the broader environment.

It is important to note the feedback cycle of trial and error associated with this ongoing process.  An experiment with nature or a new technique in Martial Arts is introduced then there is a response which will have impacts on the person or the Experiment.  In this back and forth process it is important to include a break or pause.  The response needs to be analyzed and then a new adaptive response based on the new situation is implemented.  Bruce lee was a Martial Artist who used this technique in his martial arts practice which was describe as, “constantly conducting an environmental impact report on his own activity.”(Zen MA)  If this pause is ignored and a set processes is pursued this can create a gap in the mental model or a loss of awareness of the system (Peter).  By only focusing on the implantation of a new policy or the execution of a single Marital Arts technique without response to current situations this blindness is created.

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